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Politicians hammered by the NRA

By Charles Garcia, Special to CNN
updated 10:07 PM EDT, Mon August 6, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charles Garcia: Neither major party candidate seems willing to take on gun control issue
  • Despite dozens of mass killings, politicians remain in thrall to the NRA, he says
  • Garcia: After 12 died and 58 were wounded in Aurora, we must act on gun issue
  • He says Obama hasn't kept promise on assault weapons ban; Romney changed his views

Editor's note: Charles Garcia, who has served in the administration of four presidents, of both parties, is the CEO of Garcia Trujillo, a business focused on the Hispanic market. He was named in the book "Hispanics in the USA: Making History" as one of 14 Hispanic role models for the nation. Follow him on Twitter: @charlespgarcia

(CNN) -- On July 20, many of us woke to the horrific images of the events that had unfolded in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded. In the wake of the tragedy, we don't simply wonder who or why, but also how?

Soon after, President Obama gave a fiery speech, stating, "AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. They belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities."

While you might think such a statement indicated that the president was going to show some real leadership and fulfill his promises to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, the White House later released a statement saying that gun control was not something the administration was going to push at this time.

Charles Garcia
Charles Garcia

The president seems more concerned with making sure the American people know of his commitment to protect their Second Amendment rights than he does with protecting them from the danger posed by assault rifles in the hands of criminals.

Opinion: When will America wake up to gun violence?

No politician, including the most powerful man in the free world, wants to pull the trigger on solving the complex issue of gun control. The odds of political survival after such a move are worse than those in a game of Russian roulette.

Dissecting the politics of gun violence
The obstacles in legislating gun control
Obama speaks out on gun control
iReport debate: Gun control

When he was governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney strongly backed gun control, dubbing assault rifles "instruments of destruction," and he signed the first comprehensive state ban on assault weapons like the AR-15, which James Holmes is accused of using in Aurora. However, now Romney does not "believe in new laws restricting gun ownership and gun use."

Don't get me wrong, the Second Amendment is one of my favorites. In the military, I was an expert marksman who trained foreign militaries in counter-guerilla warfare, and I am an avid gun enthusiast. As a gun owner, I absolutely believe in the right to protect my family from anyone who threatens our safety.

But I also know that when the Second Amendment was passed in 1791, the most lethal weapon was a single-shot musket. Arguing that you need an assault rifle to protect your family is like saying you need a blowtorch to light a cigarette.

Within months of 9/11, new security measures were put in place at airports to ensure the safety of airline travel. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, new laws were enacted to detect suspected criminals and new security measures were put in place at federal buildings. However, since 1982 we've had 56 incidents of mass killings involving firearms, many of which were semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles. Yet here we stand, 30 years later, no closer to resolution on even the simplest forms of stricter gun control.

Such resolution is blocked at almost every step of the way by the juggernaut that is the National Rifle Association. There are no two cozier bedfellows than the NRA and politicians; if laws controlled guns the way the NRA controls politicians, America would be the safest country in the world.

Frum: Fear drives opposition to gun control

The NRA makes more than $200 million a year. These earnings, coupled with its 4-million strong membership, has paralyzed any thoughtful discussion of the issue from politicians who are scared to even have an honest debate of where the proper lines should be drawn. One only has to look at U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, the two-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who after a 36-year career lost his primary race in the face of heavy campaigning against him by conservative groups, including the NRA, which criticized his support for a ban on assault rifles.

It's political suicide to even propose safety measures like background checks at gun shows. President Obama and Mitt Romney are focused laser-like on the key swing states, which all have significant gun ownership. It's clear that both candidates are afraid of turning off these gun owners and the NRA.

With 4 million members on its rolls and as many as 47% of all Americans reporting gun ownership, appearing sympathetic to the ideals of the NRA is a significant consideration for anyone running for public office.

The NRA wields a carrot-and-stick approach to politics, doling out generous political backing to those who agree with it or to those who are simply running against someone who disagrees with it. The group also employs a rating system under which candidates are graded according to their votes on key issues. The NRA is always transparent about certain votes being graded, and as such candidates are always on notice before they vote.

Until we face the power of the NRA and truly measure the length of its reach, the issue of gun control is doomed to stay exactly where it is -- stuck.

Challenging such a powerful lobby, daunting as it appears, is paramount, because we can't allow special interests to run roughshod over the public interest.

The issue of guns and how we as a country regulate their ownership and use must be addressed -- and soon. I am like many gun owners who, polls have shown, stand by both our right to bear arms and the responsibility to create safety measures that protect the public. Yes, we want to have our cake and eat it, too, and I firmly believe such a middle ground -- not a "flip-flop" a la Romney, nor an empty promise, a la Obama -- exists. But we need to jump-start the conversation -- and stay well clear of the fiery rhetoric.

As it stands, a little more than a week after James Holmes gunned down 12 people, including 6-year-old Veronica Moser, who were enjoying a night out at the movies, we are left with some politicians' righteous indignation and a few photo ops.

A dozen grieving families and a nation deserve more -- we deserve real leadership.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Charles P. Garcia.

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